Buddhist Mindfulness #7 “Clever people do not become enlightened?”Jean Kelley October 19, 2019 3 Comments
Here at the centre, something that I am being told time and time again, that I am trying to use to my energy to become better at, is to become mindful of all actions, in the seated practice, and in the day-to-day running around the centre. Can you, maybe, just shed a little light, let us know what the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are? Okay. I think before that, there has to be a clear comprehension of what mindfulness is, and what it is not, because I think that, in our society, generally, mindfulness has become such a popular buzz-word. People are learning it, but is what they are learning actually mindfulness? Or… You also have to include aspirations, understanding why we are practicing mindfulness. So, for instance, I think what a lot of people are, actually, being taught is a form of concentration. The idea being that, if you concentrate on something, then, for that time, there isn’t any neurotic preoccupation with anything. So, you are calm and you are happy. That is why people do hobbies, that is why people watch sport on TV, that is why they go to the cinema. There is this distraction and this absorption in one particular thing, to the exclusion of everything else. At that time, there will not be any suffering. And I think that people are being taught that as “mindfulness,” when it is, actually, concentration. So, you just get this blanket focus on one thing. It blanks out everything else. So, for the time being, you are peaceful and happy. Now, that is not strictly what mindfulness is, or what it is for. You do need a certain amount of that, but, actually, mindfulness is choice-less
awareness. It is not concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of other things, so that you do not have to face things you do not like. Mindfulness is looking at whatever presents itself in the moment, with a view to understanding it, seeing its true characteristics, understanding any kind of mental process that is going on, in terms of processing that event, internally, in order to understand where it is that we crave, where it is that we ignore, and to give ourselves the opportunity to change our views, our ideas, our assumptions about life, through looking directly at the truth of life as it unfolds. That is a really important thing to remember, that we are not trying to actually change anything. We are not trying to blank anything out. True mindfulness is about exploring whatever wants to come up. So, you have to be quite brave, because, habitually, we turn away from and ignore the things that we do not like. We do not turn away from the things we really like, generally speaking. But we have to understand suffering and the causes of suffering, so, you have to be prepared to look at everything, the full gamut of human experience, from the happiest to the most
unhappy, both pleasure and pain. So, how do you lessen the tendency to push away the negative and want to just stay with the positive things that pop up? When the mindfulness is there, when these things arise, I don’t know about anybody else, but, in the early days, I would have a tendency to think, “Oh no, I don’t want to get involved in that. That is negative. I will just watch it.” But, before you know it, the mind is running away in whichever way it wants to go. What kind of advice do you have for lessening that grip, essentially? Is it just repetition of the process? , Yes, definitely. A lot of wise reflection is helpful, especially at the beginning. In the seated practice, or afterwards? In the seated practice, well, no, not when you are practicing, but after you have practiced, it is very useful to keep a meditation journal. If it is mindfulness in the round, doing some gardening, or washing up, then it is just putting in little gaps where you stop and you reflect, “What is going on here? Why have I entered into this daydream? Why don’t I want to look? Was there something I wanted to get away from, which I didn’t want to acknowledge?” Because we are so habituated to ignore, it takes time and a lot of endeavour, and a lot of repetition to actually observe where it is we actually avoid something, and don’t want to look. What happens is, suffering increases, restlessness increases, whenever we ignore. That really is the key. As you discover that you are feeling quite restless and you are not settled, and the mind is buzzing around, or whatever it happens to be, to my mind, that restlessness can be a really healthy signal, just to say, “Hang on, what is it I am ignoring? Let’s go and have a look at this.” So, is that mindfulness of the feelings that are present? Feelings, in Buddhism, boil down to “pleasant,” “unpleasant,” and “neutral,” essentially. Three kinds of feeling. Alright, to go back to your previous question, the Four Foundation of Mindfulness, for the record, are: mindfulness of body, mindfulness of feeling, mindfulness of states of mind and mindfulness of content of mind. It is always really helpful to start mindfulness with your physical experience, rather than trying to understanding your mental experience. Because the mind is very fleeting, at least physical experience is a little more gross and heavier, and you can observe it more easily. For instance, if it is outside of the seated practice, in normal life, say, you are taking your dog for a walk, it is observing the walking process: pressure, temperature, motion, seeing how all these change. Seeing how the body changes moment by moment, that is a very good way of getting into body mindfulness. Once you are in the body, then, what is going on in terms of feeling, the general state of your mind, and the other things that are going off in the mind, it becomes easier to acknowledge those, then. But there will be a definite sense of dis-ease, whenever we ignore. That is really, you might say, the general state of the mind. Whenever you think things are not right, you are suffering, because, actually, everything is perfect as it is. What is the difference between mindfulness of “states of mind,” and mindfulness of “content of mind”? I like to think, in terms of developing your mindfulness, that, once you have got bodily mindfulness going, you begin to become aware that you are feeling a bit “cheesed off,” or you are feeling quite content. It is a kind of general state of the mind. That is what I equate with the third Foundation of Mindfulness, the general tenor of the mind. Then, as your intellectual understanding of the teaching improves, and you start to get more accurate in your labelling and assessment and discernment of what is going on in the mind, you are able to label things very accurately. For instance, perhaps, what you are experiencing is one of the five hindrances. Or, perhaps, what you are experiencing is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. You are able to discern more accurately and I would say that is then [mindfulness of] “content of mind”. It is just a more precise, accurate, detailed analysis of what is taking place. Nobody has to be a genius about this. Clever people do not become enlightened, as a rule, because they are too clever. They think about it too much. Over-analyse it? Over-analyse it. You just start with what you have got. That is what I did. The entirety of my training, I just focused on my immediate experience. Well, apart from when I was craving for life
to be different. But when I was being mindful, I would just focus on what was unfolding, and I would label things as best I could. But it is critical that you do that, because it is through that labelling that you begin to see transience. It is seeing the characteristic of change, that things do not last, which is really going to undercut the suffering,
big time. I, personally, have a tendency to, maybe, over-label things, or get caught up in the labelling. What advice do you have, in terms of weakening that process? I would imagine that would come down a certain individual’s personal character outside of the teaching, if they have that kind of mind? We apply ourselves to the mindfulness training in exactly the same way that we apply ourselves in other aspects of our lives. Really, meditation is just opening a window of awareness to what we have been doing the whole time. If, typically, you are an over-achiever, it is that “quantity over quality” [approach]. It is like thinking, “If I label enough, something will happen.” But it is not, actually. It is the quality of the experience that we want. It is the clarity of seeing transience, and seeing how ungraspable reality is. That is what we want. It is not like you are going to run out of material any time soon. “Oh, I have run out of things to see, or things to hear.” So, you have got plenty, so you can relax. We have all got a bias. My bias is the opposite, towards laziness, towards not applying myself. So, meditation to me, when I am doing it right, has always felt like terrible hard work. Whereas for you, what would be uncomfortable is, perhaps, to do less, and be content just to wait. Relax and and not work so hard. For everyone, the middle is at the other end of the spectrum to where they are comfortable. For you, it is heading towards peace and calm and contentment and non-accomplishment, in that sense. And having to cope with all the fears and worries and anxieties that arise, and learning about those undercurrents. You need to know about that. For somebody else, somebody with my character, for instance, it is like they are being asked to do the impossible all the time, “How dare they.” Well, it seems a total paradox, because you are taught, I don’t know whether it is particularly in the West, but, certainly, if you go through mainstream education in this society, you are taught that, to get anywhere, you have got to apply yourself earnestly, and, maybe, apply yourself just that bit more than everybody else, then you might [succeed]. It is such a paradox that you are told, “Well, actually you do need to apply yourself, but you almost need to do nothing and just observe.” That is so difficult. For some people, but not for all. And I can fully understand what you are saying. I would say, at the risk of sounding a bit controversial, that everyone in the education system is ignorant, with the greatest respect. They ignore the true nature of reality, and the whole thing about mindfulness and meditation is you have got to learn where the middle path is, the Middle Way between the extremes of too much and too little. For the purpose of spiritual education, of realising the cessation of suffering, for the over-achiever, it feels like almost nothing. For the under-achiever it feels excessive. It is just one of the paradoxes. We just have these biases. I should imagine that, the perceived difficulty of reaching the middle path is the same for both sides? It is only a perception, yes. When anybody gets the balance right, the right kind of balance is like when you are listening to a piece of music, and the piece of music is taking the whole of your attention, and you are just in that to the exclusion of everything else. So, you are able to attend to that music, and if you wanted to, you could, perhaps, listen to that music with a view to hearing the notes disappear, moment by moment. That would be mindfulness of materiality, that would be observing the transient nature of the physical experience. Any time, for me, that the mediation does become stiller, and the mind is a little
bit quieter, I have a tendency to feel that I am not doing anything. Yes, that sounds about right. And then I get involved again, and it all goes to pot. Yes, and the difficulty is remaining in that place where you feel like, “I am doing anything, I am not achieving anything, I am not producing anything.” Because, that is what our culture demands, and that is how we have been brought up. Therefore, it is having the faith, it is having the wherewithal, having the understanding of what is going on, to remain with that strong urge to fill that space, and to allow it to remain open and, apparently, empty, because it is not empty. A lot of people get to that point and say, “Oh, it was void, there was nothing going on,” and I say, “What do you mean?” We start to talk about it, and it turns out that there is a whole host of stuff going on, but to them it felt like nothing. But it is only a perception. It is only a perception based on what you are used to.